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The Champion Taco-Eating Pit Bull

My neighbor Jose had just adopted a special pit bull from the local rescue shelter. It had been the faithful companion for five years of Jose’s elderly friend who had passed away a few months earlier. Because pit bulls have a bad rap, nobody wanted the dog, so the shelter planned to put it to sleep. When my neighbor learned that his friend’s faithful companion was about to be killed, he immediately adopted the dog. I don’t know about cats having nine lives, but that dog definitely got a second life.

That dog went everywhere with Jose. The dog’s name was Lucky, but Jose made a point of calling him something like “Lu-key.” Jose even got that large pooch service-dog certified, which meant he could take that dog into the supermarkets and even into the county fair.

Last July, I was assigned to judge the taco eating contest. A few months later the county fair started. Somehow Jose managed to get Lucky into the fair on my judgment day. According to him, the ticket office at first refused to let Lucky the service dog go in, because of all the other animals there. So Jose was sent to the exhibitor’s entrance, where the fair’s president was. After the president argued with Jose a bit, he was left at the gate with Lucky while the fair officials argued about what to do. During that time, exhibitors with other dogs, cats, pigs, and birds of all kinds, came into the fair through that same gate. Lucky looked at those other animals but did not budge from Jose’s side. Not a sound came from him, though other animals sometimes made a racket. The president noticed that and then decided to let Jose and Lucky conditionally come in; Lucky was in no way to disturb the other animals, children, or people.

A local guy named Walt came to the taco eating contest as a participant, not letting his wife know. We had TV-like tables set up with fifteen Mama Juanita’s Taqueria soft-shelled chicken tacos on each one, the best tacos for hundreds of miles. The contestant who at them the fastest won the contest. It happened that Jose and Lucky were the closest to Walt’s table.

Well, no sooner had I blown the start whistle than Walt’s wife screamed out his name, “Walter Higgins! Get over here!” At that shout, he jumped up and bumped over his table filled with tacos, in front of Lucky. Walt then bolted away from that area as fast as a rooster with its tail feathers aflame. Well, Lucky apparently felt lucky, so he jumped the few feet needed to get at all those tacos on the ground in front of him and started gobbling them down. It wasn’t long before all the contest spectators were watching Lucky, some aiming their Instagram-linked iPhone cameras at him. It was only later we discovered that CNN also had a cameraman at that event. Not only did Lucky eat all the tacos, but he was also the first to finish them as well!

Since the top two human taco eating contest champions were state-level champs, it didn’t take the local folk much time to declare, over the protest of those two guys, Lucky the 2015 taco eating contest winner. CNN national news and its website showed scenes of Lucky gobbling up the last of the tacos. The fair’s Facebook page ended up with the greatest number of views in local history. The social media sensation Lucky would become the “picture boy” for the next state fair.

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Amazing

Young Teen Uses Make-a-Wish to Help Feed Homeless For a Year

Renee Yates

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Talk about the latest gaming consoles or smartphones, and teenagers will go over the moon. You’d be surprised to know that there are a few exceptions, or at least one. Just recently, an ailing young boy had the opportunity to choose something exceptional.

What did he choose? He chose to ensure that, at least for the next year, as many street people as possible could have a nice, tasty, and healthy hot meal. Here’s the story of a 13-year-old Mississippi boy named Abraham Olafbegi, with a big heart.

A bone marrow transplant was necessary for Abraham last year after he learned he had a rare blood disorder that required it. His transplant had been successful, and he was eligible for Make-A-Wish, an institution that gifts wishes to kids with chronic conditions, within a year of the transplant.

A lengthy wish was what Abraham desired, and he came up with a plan that he discussed with his mother. On the way home from a medical checkup, Abraham told his mother, Miriam Olagbegi, “Mother, I considered it deeply, and I’d like to help the starving,” Olagbegi said. “Are you sure, Abraham?’ His mom asked him. “There’s a great deal you can accomplish; are you sure the PlayStation isn’t an option for you?”

Abraham, unlike most teenagers, was not enthralled by the PlayStation. He was sure that he wanted to help homeless people.

Miriam said that Abraham’s father agreed that it was a great idea. That’s why we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to teach our children the virtue of generosity.

During September, Make-A-Wish worked with Abraham to plan a free food distribution day in Jackson, Mississippi, using donated necessities. Abraham estimated that they fed approximately 80 people that first day.

“A few of the homeless people had returned to the area to spread joy by singing to Abraham and his family and thanking everyone after receiving a meal,” he said. “The experience warms our hearts. Our parents taught us it is a blessing to serve others.”

Still, Abraham’s desire remains unfulfilled. Each month for one year, Make-A-Wish will grant Abraham’s request to feed the homeless.

To feed up to 80 needy people on the 3rd Saturday of every month, the Mississippi chapter of the charitable organization is partnering with Abraham to identify local sponsors who can keep supplying the food they require. Two portions have already been provided by a local church and business, according to the narrator.

Abraham intends to continue feeding the homeless after his August 2022 has reached fruition. As he sees it, this effort could become a 501(c)(3) non-profit called “Abraham’s Table.”

The fact that we can carry on with this project excites us greatly. Because it’s just so gratifying,” Abraham’s mother stated. “If I were living on the streets, I would hope that someone would remember me and then do something exceptional for me at some moment in time. My goal is to ingrain in my children a sense of gratitude for what they’ve received, and we do our best to do the same,” she added.

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Fathers Clean up a Violent High School

Renee Yates

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Fights in high school have always been present. In fact, the myth of the high school fight after the last class of the day has been embellished in Hollywood movies for decades. That said, when a school ends up having 23 students getting criminally arrested for violence in less than three days, something is seriously wrong. That was the case at Southwood High School, and the parents of the students realized the school couldn’t handle the situation. So, they got involved.

Some of the parents, the fathers, decided to take a more hands-on approach to the problem. Forming a group titled, Dads on Duty, the parents formed a team of about 40 fathers, splitting coverage in shifts at the affected high school. They were present in the morning as the students arrived, maintained a presence in the hallways during the day, and were visible and close to the student floor in the afternoon as school got out. All of the focus was on pointing the students to learning, solving issues with communication and avoiding fighting. As cheesy as the idea sounded, in practice it worked. The students confirmed it verbally, and the statistics on incidents went down, hard. Since the fathers started their shifts, the violence at Southwood High School stopped completely.

Interestingly, no specialization or professional skills were involved. None of the fathers had any background in criminal justice or law enforcement, and none were professional counselors. Instead, they simply applied what they knew best, how to be a parent of kids and teens. Granted, there were still characters who were going to push buttons and trying to get to the edge of the envelope. However, the sense of stability and safety as well as a parental presence that wasn’t going to take any lip seemed to make a big difference, even for the worst of the culprits. Students started getting back to learning, going to class and avoiding fights.

For the dads involved, it’s been an eye-opener as well. They’ve become far more in tune with current teenage issues as well as connecting with the students as well. The presence is not just about giving a look or imposing an authority presence when needed. A lot of times, the students are being joked with the same way a parent would do so at home. And it’s making a difference.

For Southwood High School, the help was a needed relief. Instead of dealing with a teenage warzone every day, the administration and the teachers could finally get back to do what they do best, teaching. Sometimes it does really take a village to raise a child.

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Bear, the Koala-Saving Rescue Dog Awarded!

Renee Yates

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Heroes come in all sizes and shapes, and some of them show up with tails and four legs as well. That was the case with one dog named Bear, who did his duty to save other animals that had been injured by Australia’s ferocious bush fires in 2019-20.

The recognition was made public by the International Fund for Animal Welfare or IFAW, which wanted to provide public identification and recognition for the work that was done during the fire disasters in Australia, particularly for vulnerable wildlife in the region. In particular, the work done by Bear was tremendous, saving multiple endangered Koala bears, marsupials that tend to end up in extreme risk during fires because they move up in trees for safety and cannot travel on the ground fast.

While Bear was not able to attend the primary ceremony itself in the Australian House of Lords, the canine hero was represented digitally and honored for his selfless actions. Bear had been instrumental in the chaos of the fires, pinning down the location of endangered koalas so rescuers could remove them safely. In many cases, it was Bear’s keen sense of smell that flushed out the marsupials trying to hide in the trees above the flames and heat or squirreled into tight locations to avoid being burned anymore.

Because of the dog’s actions and hard work staying dedicated to finding koalas, Bear was given a major recognition and award by the IFAW as well as permanently honored in the organization’s hall of fame. And when Bear is not out in the field trying to help searchers solve problems, he still gets plenty of attention and extra hugs from his handler, Dr. Romane Christescu, back at his home at the University of the Sunshine Coast.

The entire story is a huge turnaround for the dog. Only a few years earlier, Bear was in a rescue situation where he was not doing well with placement. Families that tried to adopt the dog couldn’t handle his intense amount of energy and desire to almost constantly want to play. As it turned out, these were exactly the skills the dog needed for his true role in rescue, but no one had figured that out yet. However, once the dog had been identified by the University of the Sunshine Coast’s team developing a program for disaster animal recovery, Bear found an ideal home. His exuberant nature was ideal for persistent work in the field, and Bear took to finding endangered animals easily, being a keen hunter and savvy canine sniffer even in the chaos of fire smells.

Just in one year alone in a very bad season, Bear was able to save over 100 different koalas either trapped by the fires or injured and needing help. All of the found animals survived thanks to Bear’s tenacity and keen ability to hunt and locate the koala victims quickly in a wildfire situation. Instead of dying from their burns and dehydration, all of the koalas lived and were reintroduced to the wild again to thrive.

So, while Bear probably doesn’t understand much about the IFAW award, his owners and search program are amazed at his performance and proud of the canine’s recognition. It justifies all the work that was done training Bear and provides a great result from a story that started off worrisome about how Bear was going to find his way.

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Spanx CEO Goes Big-Time Saying Thanks

Shannon Jackson

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Running a major company in the black is an accomplishment already, but when one manages to push the company so successfully that it gets a significant stake investment by a major player and provides the big payoff folks worked so hard for, that’s another leap entirely. And, while Sara Blakely, as Spanx’s CEO, could have kept that investment to herself, becoming another one of those outrageously paid executives, she chose instead to share the reward with her staff as a major thank you for all their commitment to her.

As the investment group, Blackstone, finalized their majority stake in Spanx, Blakely decided to make sure her employees, each and every one of them, got to realize some piece of that amazing transition to the next level of their company. Via social media, Blakely made it clear to everyone involved that each Spanx employee was not only going to get $10,000 as a bonus, no strings attached, each person would also get a pair of first-class tickets to fly anywhere they wanted to go for traveling. The gift was huge just in the scale and number of recipients alone. However, more importantly, Blakely wanted the gift to be personal in a way that each employee could decide what would reward him or her the best. It was a culmination of 21 years of hard work and opened a new chapter to the next level of Spanx as a company.

For Blakely, the new achievement of investment is a dream come true as well as a validation of all the goals she had for Spanx, including those that many laughed at and commented wasn’t going to happen. Blakely and her team proved all the critics wrong. Standing on the other side of that fence now, realizing the $20 million investment worth and the culmination of a lot of long nights and endless weekends working, it’s all come true for Spanx.

Many of the Spanx employees who responded to the social media notice by Blakely were completely shocked and surprised. Most had no expectation that the company growth via major investment was going to directly impact them in such a clear way of gratitude for their work. Almost all immediately started commenting on where they were going to go for a trip as a result of the airplane tickets. All in all, whether one goes to Hawaii, Disneyland or South Africa, Blakely just wanted everyone to know how much she appreciated their commitment to getting Spanx to where it is today. The gesture was definitely noticed.

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Pink Dolphins Are Being Saved by, Wait For It, Fishermen

Shannon Jackson

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There was a time when pink dolphins were a prized catch. Fishermen off the coast of Bolivia and in the Amazon would hunt them, show off a catch to friends and competitors as the mark of a skilled fisherman on the water. However, today, the pink-colored mammal in the water has now become one of the most protected animals in the Amazon by the very same humans that used to hunt it.

To understand the movement of pink, bottle-nosed dolphins in the region’s waterways, researchers managed to tag four of the big animals with tags that signaled off beacons via satellite. The signals in turn provide data on the movement of the dolphins, which allows scientists to see how their populations move, flourish, ebb and interact with different parts of the Amazon’s water environment. Hardly anything is known at this time, but the computerized data from tracking is opening up an entire library of information previously inaccessible.

For the local fishermen, they are participating in an entirely different perspective regarding the pink dolphin they used to hunt for food and sport. Instead, working with the Bolivian government and scientific community, the fishermen now feel they are part of something bigger. There are plenty of other fish to catch in the water for food and personal achievement. The pink dolphin won’t be a vacuum by any means.

Interestingly, the fishermen are very astute about the relationship that the dolphin has with its environment as well. What harms the local pink dolphin also eventually harms the locals as well. So, if there’s something bad in the water or feeding into it, eventually the fishermen and their families are going to be harmed by the cause as well. That makes the related dolphin research and its findings personal and important to the locals, reframing their attitudes towards the dolphin research work.

The Bolivian pink dolphins have become the practical canary in the coal mines for the local people who live off of and depend on the Amazonian waters for their own livelihood. That makes them important and precious to protect as a species. No surprise, the changed paradigm has become a win-win for everyone involved, and the research side of things is enjoying the added benefits of the boots on the ground working in tandem with their efforts versus against them and the pink bottle-nosed dolphin.

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